Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley on The Leadmill and the owners' plans for the iconic club
For Sheffield-born singer-songwriter Richard Hawley, The Leadmill is deeply personal. It is, he says, a venue at which he has played “hundreds of times” as a solo artist as well as with his earlier bands The Longpigs and Treebound Story.
“I played there on my 17th birthday, and even before that when I was really young, right at the beginning of The Leadmill’s history,” he recalls, adding that back in the 1960s his father, Dave, even performed at the venue when it was known as the Esquire Club, at a Christmas all-nighter with Joe Cocker and Dave Berry.
“Basically it’s like our Cavern, it’s our Hacienda," he said.
When the news first broke on Thursday afternoon (Mar 31) that the current lease would not be renewed, he said his phone did not stop buzzing all day and the city of Sheffield was in shock.
“The thing about The Leadmill is it caters for human beings, it’s not like a niche thing," added. "I saw the Stone Roses there – that’s where I met Mani from the Roses and we’ve become lifelong friends.
"The breadth (of artists who have appeared there) is staggering, just the nights that I personally have either seen or played, it’s my whole life. I’m 55 now and I think I played there first when I was about 16.
"My whole adult life is there, but as an asset to the city it’s deeply troubled me, not just for The Leadmill itself but for the city as a whole. I think the city is on the verge of cultural catastrophe."
“I’m not blaming individuals on that. We’ve just been through a global pandemic which has had a huge impact on all of us, and to come out of that, especially with the horrible world events that are going on, our cultural heritage is so hugely important, it tells our story.
"For The Leadmill to disappear would be a real tragedy not just for the city but it’s one of the premier venues at that level, not just for music. It's a great place to go out for discos, it’s a great place for theatre, for art.
“All the bands in Sheffield used to meet there and...it’s difficult to imagine the city culturally without it, it’s such a vibrant place to go. From a personal point of view again, I’ve known so many people down there. Phil Mills, who runs the place, I’ve known since I was a teenager. My manager Graham used to book the bands there and that’s where we met.”
Hawley says the “forces-that-be in the music world” will definitely support The Leadmill.
"The thought of losing it for the city is too hideous to contemplate. It would be very desolate without The Leadmill, it’s literally a beacon in the dark culturally and physically."
Meanwhile an equally shocked Jarvis Cocker said: “This had better be an April Fool’s joke.”
Stephen Mallinder, formerly of Cabaret Voltaire, who formed in Sheffield, told The Yorkshire Post: “It captured the mood of the musicians and artists who took over the city’s abandoned workshops as the steel industry collapsed in the 80s.
“It represented the two fingers we stuck up to Thatcher and showed we were a proud, creative and industrious lot who would do what they felt like.
“I still have vivid memories of the post-hippy dream they had to open an all purpose arts space, inspired really by Tony Wilson. And the fact it was at the location of the original, legendary, Esquire Club gave it a certain frisson.
Martyn Ware of Heaven 17 said: “The Leadmill symbolises everything that Sheffield should be cherishing and should support, both morally and from a local economic perspective.
"But even more important, it has really helped to give a massive sense of musical identity to Sheffield – it already has for decades, now it needs our help to keep it alive for all our young people’s futures."